National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
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An explorers activity guide
- for ages 5 to 12
How to become a
Ask a Ranger at the Visitor Center if the park will have an astronomy program or telescope
viewing while you are visiting. If they will, attend one of these programs.
If not, make sure to do the "Take a planet walk" activity found within this book.
How old are you? That is the number of activities you must complete to become a junior
ranger night explorer, but feel free to do more.
Each activity is rated by difficulty:
* ages 5 and up.
* * ages 8 and up.
* * * are the most challenging.
Look for the star ratings throughout the book and choose the activities that are right for you!
Also be sure to check out the bold italic words and their definitions throughout the book.
2009. Junior Ranger, Night Explorer. An explorer's activity guide for ages 5 to 12.
Office of Interpretation and Education • Intermountain Region • National Park Service
Cover photo — The Milky Way above Long's Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, by Tyler
Content — Claire Thoma, Chad Moore, Teresa Jiles, and Angie Richman.
Graphics — Chad Moore, Lisa Lynch, and Richard Kohen.
Layout & design — Richard Kohen and Angie Richman.
Hand model — Laura Kohen, age 10.
Images — Courtesy NASA image archives.
Planisphere — Use of the planishpere courtesy National Research Council Canada.
Support has been graciously provided by Curecanti National Recreation Area, the National
Park Service Night Sky Program, and the Student Conservation Association.
Exploring with your senses
The 24-hour pattern of light — day, sunset, night, and sunrise affects
r,be s an an/m £
3nds »h "days'
is dark, but there are many creatures that wake up when we go to bed. \, „;.;
In fact, there is an entire nocturnal ecosystem that is an important part
of nature. These nocturnal animals have adapted to the night. For example,
bats bounce sound waves off objects to fly in the dark and catch insects. Deer, owls, and
mountain lions have large eyes to let in more light, and can see just fine by starlight.
Spend some time outside in the park during the
day, as the sun is setting, and at night. Record
the differences in what you see, smell, and hear
at each time of day.
* Record one sense.
* * Record two senses.
* * * Record three senses.
Activity on the Sun where super-hot
gas is shooting off of the surface and then falling
back down in an arc or loop.
Sunspots are areas where the surface of the Sun is a
bit cooler, which will appear darker than the
rest of the surface.
ov &* S
Ul traVl wUo^
Our sun, which is named "Sol," is the nearest
star to us and is the brightest star in the sky.
Like all stars, Sol is a giant ball of boiling gas. It is so
big that one million Earths can fit inside! Special telescopes and satellites that are made
for looking at the sun show us that its surface is always changing.
Surface explosions called prominences shoot hot gas into
space and Sunspots appear as dark spots. Over time they will
change places on the surface of the sun.
Remember, never look directly at the sun!
The sun shines light in all the colors of the rainbow.
It also shines other types of light like ultraviolet and
infrared. Our eyes cannot see ultraviolet light, but we
know it exists because it will burn our skin if we stay
outside too long without sunscreen. Other types of light
from the sun are even more harmful. Luckily for us the
Earth is protected by an atmosphere that contains ozone,
which blocks ultraviolet and other harmful types of light.
beca^ se .
* Label a sunspot, a prominence, and the ozone layer on the picture above.
* * Do the above and think of another type of harmful light that the atmosphere blocks.
(Hint: It is used in hospitals to look at your bones!) What is it?
Stargazing is great, but it is always more
fun when you are prepared!
• Wear warm clothes. It can get cold
and windy at night.
• Bring water, a snack, and a chair
to sit on.
• Use a red flashlight to move
around at night. (White light will
spoil your night vision.)
• Bring a starchart or planisphere
to find the constellations.
• Use binoculars to look at
planets and star clusters.
• Try not to bump stargazers'
telescopes or touch the
• Most importantly, bring lots
of time and curiosity!
f^ art ^gazing
* Find five of the orange words in the word search puzzle. (Hint: Look for vertical, horizontal,
and even backwards words.)
* * Find all of the the orange words in the word search.
* * * Find all of the the orange words in the word search. Then look at the letters in the word
search table that are not circled. Starting with the first letter, write each leftover letter on
the blanks below to discover the hidden message. (Some of the letters are already
written for you.)
This lamp protects the
night sky and animals
by only shining light
down to the ground.
This lamp wastes
light and beams it
into the sky: it goes
This lamp shines light
where it is needed: on
Humans are creatures who have adapted to do most of our activities
during the day. When we do things at night, we need light. But,
light is a tool we must learn to use responsibly. Outdoor lamps
are often too bright or point up into the sky. They add to light
pollution, and when light pollution is really bad, we cannot see the
stars, and nocturnal animals often get disoriented and confused.
What do the lamps at your home look like?
* Mark an "X" over the wasteful
lamps (left) and circle better lamps.
* * Draw an "X" over wasteful lamps
and circle good ones. Draw a triangle
around one that is like what you see
at this park.
* * Draw a line from each picture to its description.
Tk * * What can you do to help the nocurnal animals where you live?
My hatchlings emerge from the sand and know to crawl toward the
brighter whitecaps on the ocean, but light pollution can send them
in the wrong direction.
I am unable to resist being drawn to a light, and may fly for over a
mile to your porchlight.
I used to find my favorite foods- moths and gnats- everywhere I flew.
But now I must commute much further to the city for my dinner.
I crawl from pond to pond with a compass in my head keeping me
on course. But too much light turns me around, and I can't find my
Lights from tall buildings and houses confuse me during migration
each fall. I must be careful, or I can crash into one of those shiny
My flickering tail will attract a mate, but only if she can see me
among the many streetlights.
How dark is the sky?
The stars are always there, but we cannot always see them. The farther
away from sources of light pollution you are, the more stars you can
see. Astronomers measure the darkness of the sky in something called
limiting magnitude where 7 is the best and is the worst. Follow the
directions below to estimate how dark the sky is at this park.
* * Below are pictures of how many stars you can see at different limiting magnitudes. Choose
the picture you think best matches the sky at this park and circle it.
(Hint: If it's summer, use the Big Dipper. If it's winter, use Orion. Also use the star wheel in the
center of the book to help you find these constellations.
* * When you get home, calculate the magnitude of the sky from your backyard. Write it here.
Can you see more or fewer stars at your home? Why do you think this is?
Changing faces of the Moon
is the path,
usually an oval, of a
on around a planet or
iet around a star.
IS days for the moon to
rbi\ ad the
travels around our planet, different sections of it are lit up. When the whole
face of the moon is lit, it is called "full." When none of the moon is lit, it is called "new."
While the moon is growing from "new" to "full," it is described as "waxing."
When the moon is shrinking from "full" to "new," it is called "waning."
* Go outside and find the moon. Shade in the shadowed part.
* * What phase is the moon in now?
* * * Predict the number of days until the next full moon:
If possible, attend an astronomy program and telescope viewing.
* Look through a telescope. In a circle (below), draw
what you can see in the field of view.
* * Ask the telescope operator to tell you about the
object, and write down what you learn.
* * * Look at a second object in the telescope and
repeat the activity.
One thing I learned about this object:
Object type: _
One thing I learned about this object:
Using a planisphere
* Cut out the star wheel (planisphere) below and the holder (on the next
page). Carefully cut out the middle of the holder. Fold the flaps on the holder
back, and insert the star wheel. Turn the wheel until the date appears above the
time that you are out at night. The constellations visible at that time appear in the window
— ^ * ft
Face South and hold the planisphere above your head and look up at it. The constellations in the middle of
the oval should be directly above your head (at the zenith). The constellations on the left side of the oval
should be to your left on the eastern horizon. The constellations on the right side of the oval should be to
your right on the western horizon. The stars on the bottom of the wheel (South) should be directly in front of
you, and those on the top of the wheel (North) should be behind you.
i null 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 n ii
# Corona , -^
l Borealis^\ V-/
Big Dipper . -
'erseus m?— \
Betelgeuse . TaUrUS
I I I I I I I Ml
Use scissors to cut out the planisphere. Cut just outside the thick border.
Did you notice?
The stars in the upper corners change color from page to page. Stars come in
many different colors, and their color tells us what temperature they are. Hotter
stars are blue, while ones that aren't so hot are red. Our star, the sun, is yellow,
and is a medium temperature star. Really really hot stars shine in ultraviolet
light, while those that are only warm emit energy as infrared light.
A star can change color by changing its temperature. As stars grow older they
often cool down in temperature and thus may appear more red. By studying the
colors of stars, astronomers learn about their birth, life, and death. Check out
the Star Formation Jumble to learn more.
Our sun is the nearest star to us. Its
surface temperature is 10,000°F!
Hint: Use a red-light flashlight
to read your star wheel in the
dark. You can make your own
red flashlight by covering a white
flashlight with red cellophane or
Red-light flashlights are also
available for purchase at most
park visitor centers.
Solar system smarts
* This is a picture of our solar system. Label each planet to see their location from the sun.
Nol to Scale
* * Create a mnemonic to help you remember the order
of the planets:
W^ » in wW* * e W f he *orf= V° u ^ moons
* e sa ^f, For exampte. «£ de , ca»«s ^ teen ^
students rem Cater pi\\ars.^^^
Take a planet walk
* * * Start at a trailhead and pretend you
are starting at the sun. While you walk, the
planets' distances from the sun would be the
number of steps you take. Place a rock or
other object in the location of each planet.
This walk is a total of 484 steps. The sun
would be the size of an apple and the earth
the size of the point of a pin on this scale.
In 2007, scientists changed
the definition of a planet, and Pluto
ended up moving from the category
of "planet" to the category of "minor
1 ) Pluto has an irregular (not
circular) orbit; and
• 2) Pluto did not clear its orbital
path of debris.
Based on these definitions, scientists
either had to demote Pluto or add
several more planets to our solar
«*P* you made „ t o J
Sfe PS- you have reach *
SW. y „ Sd Earf o
PS ' ^ ore at Mflrs
Steps: Wel C0nie ,
■ ""* » Z It?'
Navigating at night
's the height that
*f« appears abo.
,e of zero
w ,s ana/t/tude f
For over a thousand years, sailors have used the stars to find
their way across the ocean on long voyages. As the earth
rotates, all of the stars appear to spin around a point called the
Celestial Pole. Because the star Polaris (also called the North Star)
is very close to the Celestial Pole, it is the only star that does not appear
to move during the night. Its altitude is equal to the observer's latitude (these distances
are measured in degrees). Sailors could find their latitude by measuring how far above the
horizon the North Star appeared. To test your own skill at navigating by the stars, go outside
at night, and use the chart below to find Polaris. Now hold your arm out
v straight and level to the ground. Make a fist with your thumb resting on top
Latitude \. Q f y 0ur ^ YSt fi n g er Starting with the base of your fist straight out in front
distance from \ of you, count how many fists you need to reach Polaris.
/ any point on the \
/ Earth to the equator. \
The equator has _
a latitude of zero
degrees, and the J
\ North Pole has / I
Y a latitude of 90 /
Look for the
North Star in the sky
Did you find it?
* * Use the
estimate that one fist
is about 10 degrees.
What is your latitude?
* * * Look at a map
or ask an adult to help
you find your exact
How close were you?
-&^^^^ C ^^ 1
* Draw the shape of each constellation by connecting the numbered stars in order.
* * Connect the stars and write the name of each constellation next to its story below.
1 1, +:••
V 4? +
+ 5 ♦
+ 9 Orion
| ++ +
+ 5 *
3 ^ ^
I am a mighty hunter. I hunt with a bow and carry a sword in my belt. I am usually seen
during the winter because I stay away from my enemy, the scorpion, who is visible in
the summer. Who am I?....
I am a lion with a bright heart. Although I am lying down right now, I am still a fearsome
beast seen during the spring and summer. Who am I?....
I am the scorpion whose powerful claws and stinger chase the hunter across the
sky. I am on a mission to chase him forever. I am seen in the southern sky during the
summer. Who am I?....
I am a beautiful queen whose pride almost killed my daughter, Andromeda. I can be
seen sitting in my "W"-shaped throne in fall, but as punishment for my pride I hang
upside down half of each night. Who am I?....
I am half horse and half man, although now people often refer to me as a "teapot." I
tutored the great heroes Achilles and Hercules. I guard the southern sky in summer.
Who am I?....
I am a swan, and I gracefully glide down the Milky Way during summer and fall. I am
sometimes known as the "Northern Cross." Who am I?....
Same stars, different stories
People around the world make up different
stories about the shapes they see in the stars.
The constellation we know as the Big Dipper
was known to both Native Americans and
Greeks as a big bear. To farmers in England, it
was known as a plow, and to fishermen in oug
Australia, it was known as a canoe. Germans called it a big
wagon, Arabians saw a coffin followed by three mourners,
and the Chinese knew it as a grain measure. People see
objects that are important to their way of
life in the stars.
. + +
to the left,
v our own
U P a story,
* 3 matches
* * 5 matches
* * * 8 matches
Draw a line from each picture to its description.
Many galaxies living in the same
Ball of ice and dust that passes
by Earth and often has a "tail"
of gas streaming out behind
Group of tightly packed old, yellow stars
Two stars that orbit each other
Gas left behind when a star's core
collapses (through old telescopes, it
looked round like a planet)
Thick cloud of gas from
which new stars can form
Gas, dust, and billions of stars in a
flattened shape with spiral arms
Chunk of rocky debris usually found
between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter
Binary star system
Go out at night, let your eyes adjust
to the darkness, and look around.
Cross off everything that you find!
mad e light
Star formation picture jumble
Stars have life cycles just like plants and animals! All stars begin from thick clouds of gas and
dust. In their first stage, they are called a protostar I I and are surrounded by a disk of gas
and dust. The size of the star determines what type of life it will lead and how long it will
live. Red dwarf stars I I are smaller than our Sun. Because they live for so long, they have
not yet evolved past their first life stage. A Sun-like star spends most of its life as a yellowish
ball of gas I I with burning hydrogen in its core. Once it uses up all its hydrogen, it evolves
into a red giant I I before its core collapses and leaves the gas behind to form a planetary
nebula R. Its core then becomes a white dwarf I I and slowly cools. A star a bit larger
than the Sun will live as a white giant I I and evolve into a red supergiant I |, and then
explode in a supernova F*J. A star much larger than a white giant will spend its short life as
a blue supergiant ^ J that evolves into
an even bigger red supergiant I I. It
finally collapses into a powerful black
hole IKJ All of the gas that gets sent out
into space by supernovae and planetary
nebulae I I eventually forms clouds of
gas and dust that become nurseries for
new stars, and the cycle continues.
* * * In the picture jumble on the left,
find the sequences that represent the life
cycles of each of the four types of stars.
The sequences may be vertical, horizontal,
or diagonal. Write the number found in the
corner of each picture in the blanks below
and do the math (addition and subtraction)
to discover how long each star will live.
. + +
_ million years
Our solar system and all of the stars that we can see with our eyes are part of a spiral galaxy
named the Milky Way. The Milky Way can only be seen when it is really dark. Have you ever
seen the Milky Way? It got it's name because the ancient Greeks thought it looked like spilled
milk flowing across the sky
* Can you find your
way from the outer
edge of the galaxy all
the way to the giant
^ black hole in its
An artists idea of the Milky Way.
What we see from Earth.
As a Junior Ranger - Night Explorer, I promise to enjoy and protect the
night sky by exploring my nightime environment, not disturbing anything
wild and remembering that light is a tool that I must use responsibly.
Junior Ranger Signature
Park Ranger Signature
EXPLORE • LEARN • PROTECT
nr\l Coloradq - I
To learn more about light pollution, visit www.ida.org
To learn more about astronomy, visit www.starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov
To learn more about what is up at night, visit www.heavens-above.com
You can explore National Parks right from your own home!
Start earning your Webranger patch at www.nps.gov/webrangers
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